Reading on the Cardiff Train
Imagine you’re a girl, nineteen years old,
pretty and .. let’s not use the word “normal” but
.. you like dancing, bars, the usual stuff.
And often, in your carriage, Mondays,
early train to Cardiff, there’s this boy, pale,
your age, quiet, seems so serious, reading,
always the same book. James Joyce’s Ulysses.
So you’ve done your ‘A’ levels, you know that’s
a solid uni book, this boy must be a student.
But is this real? Most of your friends would say
he needs to get a life. But you’re not sure,
so you start to glance across, look up from Facebook
to study the white folds, the bit of book he’s read
and what he hasn’t. And yes, he’s moving. Slowly.
But what you don’t know is, he’s nervous. Travelling
is a problem, an anxiety thing, so he’s worked out
if he digs in behind his book (he needs to read it
anyway, it’s on his extra-reading list),
he can stay in himself and safe. He does though
like the book. He finds some solace in the image too,
Welsh railways’ dreaming intellectual.
One busy day, they’re crammed in cheek by cheek
and she (at fourteen she was known as “Bossy”) asks
“Good book?” And he’s gabbling a little, about Bloom,
Dublin, Night-town, she gets about a half of it,
and she’s thinking, Shall I just ask .. what times
does he come back? Coffee sometime, somewhere?
The Cardiff train in April. The promise, the light sky.
In the Carters’ Arms
Two junior academics, shy, near middle age,
they started their trips to the Carters’ Arms
one May/June term in a very hot summer.
The poet they’d meet in the pub’s front bar,
calm-widowed, there for his supper,
seemed to be bathed in contentment.
He’d sip stewed pears, move to the clouds
of a generous pipe smoke, chat poetry with them.
The barmaid, kind-hearted, well-breasted
(or so the man’s phrase described her),
would tell them of her daughter’s hockey.
Front bar, the crony dominoes (her phrase that),
then they’d drink red wine in the hushed back bar,
a brown retreat, with maps and hunting prints.
They loved it there, their local,
maybe because it was a poets’ pub,
maybe for its well-forgotten nature.
It was their pub, a first time in their lives,
their own locality, their own back room.
Robert Nisbet is a poet from West Wales who in 2017 won the Prole Pamphlet Competition with Robeson, Fitzgerald and Other Heroes. His work has been widely published in Britain and the USA.